Kent State University, which for years distanced itself from the May 4, 1970, shootings, is now fully embracing its history.

Wednesday, KSU trustees approved a resolution “ensuring the university’s commitment and responsibility” for the annual commemoration of the fatal shootings as well as ongoing education regarding the event that shocked the nation.

Nearly 49 years ago, four students were killed and nine were injured when Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire during a protest of the Vietnam War on the campus. The shootings played a role in congealing public opinion against the war.

“On behalf of the families [of the four students who were killed], thank you for the assurance we have long sought that the world will never forget what happened here,” Roseann "Chic" Canfora told trustees.

Canfora was a sophomore at Kent State on May 4, 1970, and ducked behind a car to shield herself when the National Guard began shooting. Her brother Alan was among the nine students injured.

The trustees’ action means that the May 4 Task Force student group will no longer be the organizer of the annual remembrance. The task force formed in 1975 in response to the university discontinuing its support that year for the commemorations.

The change will begin with the 50th commemoration in the 2019-20 academic year. The university already has begun planning a host of activities for the year.

“In 1975, the university said five years is long enough to remember,” Roseann Canfora said, recalling the formation of the May 4 Task Force that year.

But since then, student membership in the task force has waned, Canfora said.

The student group is continuing. Now, however, there is an assurance the university will provide the resources and stability the annual commemoration deserves, said Canfora, who is communications officer for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

The university has earlier embraced the tragedy. In 1990, the university dedicated the May 4 Memorial, and in 1999 it installed permanent markers in the Prentice Hall parking lot spaces where the four who died fell. Killed were Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder and Sandra Scheuer.

The May 4 Visitors Center opened in 2012, and in 2017, the U.S. Department of the Interior named the site of the shootings a national landmark.

Still, Wednesday's resolution was significant, said Laura Davis, professor emerita of English at Kent State, who was a witness to the shootings as a freshman on campus.

"The university has pledged to remember in perpetuity," Davis, the retired founding director of the visitors center, said following the meeting. "It's the responsibility of us as human beings to remember those members of our community who have been lost, especially due to injustice."

Also, the university has said it "will fulfill the lead the educational mission that is part of the legacy of May 4," she said.

The change was recommended by Kent State President Beverly J. Warren and the president’s cabinet.

Last fall, Warren received a letter from family members of the slain students, as well as the seven living wounded survivors suggesting the change.

“The limited scope of the group and budget and its increasingly scant membership results in a small number of students assuming the enormous responsibility for education and commemoration,” the letter noted.

“To us, it is clear that the 1975-era antagonism between students and the KSU administration about May 4 is gone,” the letter said.

The letter said Warren and the university’s committee planning the 50th anniversary of the shootings had shown “an unprecedented interest, ingenuity and responsiveness regarding May 4 events.’”

Warren met in her first year as president with some of the letter writers, according to the letter. On May 4 last year, according to the letter, Warren acknowledged “the fault of the university for leaving us vulnerable to attack.”

In other business, board of trustees Chairman Ralph Della Ratta revealed that Warren will be the speaker at this spring's commencement. Warren said last year that she would step down July 1. Undergraduate commencement is May 11.

Kent State paid actor and alumnus Michael Keaton $100,000 to give last year's commencement address.

 

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.